VA taking guesswork out of filing for benefits by requiring forms

A new way to file


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A couple years after I separated from the military, a retired chief at my local The American Legion post told me I should look into filing an increase on one of my disabilities. At that time, my disability was causing me increased pain and she was concerned I was not being compensated appropriately.

At first I ignored her, but with more prompting I went onto VA’s website and searched for the form to file an increase on my disability compensation. Finding none, I went back to the chief and she found me a local service officer who wrote on a piece of paper that I wanted to file an increase for my service-connected disability, put it in an envelope, and dropped it in the mail.

I was stunned. For weeks, I had searched for a form that did not exist.

Shortly after that, I started working for a Veterans service organization helping other Veterans appeal their claims. Like the service officer who had helped me, I would advise Veterans to write what they were appealing on a piece of paper and mail it in. Many of them found it confusing.

“What do I write?” they would ask. Or, “There’s really no form?” Or my favorite, “Even the DMV requires me to fill out a form for a driver’s license.”

The confusion Veterans, their families and survivors felt in the claims process was a major reason why I came to work at VA in 2011. I had ideas and wanted to be a part of the change to help Veterans like myself and husband. More importantly, I wanted to communicate those changes to you.

Nearly four years later, I am amazed at the changes that have occurred. For instance, Veterans no longer have to drop their claims in the mail and can instead file online, our claims processors can now work your claim from start to finish electronically and Veterans can automatically add dependents online. And starting today, we are making it easier to file a claim. By using standardized forms – much like applying for a driver’s license – you won’t have to wonder which form to use, or which one is best for you. There is now only one form for filing each benefit – compensation, pension and dependency indemnity compensation and one form for submitting an appeal for a compensation claim.

Here are two major changes we want you to know:

First, when you file a claim, you must use one of these forms:

  • Veterans filing compensation claims should still use eBenefits. It continues to be the fastest and easiest way to file a claim for compensation. In fact, the form is already built into the system.
  • If you prefer not to file online you must complete and submit VA Form 21-526EZ, Application for Disability Compensation and Related Compensation Benefits, to VA
  • Wartime Veterans filing pension claims must complete and mail VA Form 21-527EZ, Application for Pension
  • Survivors filing for dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC), survivors pension, and accrued benefits must be filed on VA Form 21-534EZ, Application for DIC, Death Pension, and/or Accrued Benefits
Filing a standard form

Visit explore.va.gov for more information on using standard forms to file a claim.

 

Second, if you plan on appealing your claim’s decision, VA will provide you an easy-to-understand form that allows VA to quickly determine why you disagree with the decision. This is called the Standard Notice of Disagreement, or VA Form 21-0958. If you receive a compensation decision on or after March 24, you will have to use this form if you want to appeal. Those wanting to appeal pension and survivors benefits are not required to use the standard NOD at this time.

But wait, those forms aren’t new!

You’re right. VA has used these forms for years, but they were optional. In that time, we’ve seen how use of these forms has gone a long way in removing confusion and easing processing delays in the claims process.

Finally, for Veterans and survivors who want to file a claim, but need more time to gather information, we’ve standardized what used to be known as an informal claim by using a new intent to file a claim process. This basically means you or your representative can submit information, including what general benefit type you are seeking (i.e., compensation, pension, or survivors benefits) to preserve an effective date for benefits while you take up to one year to gather the evidence necessary to support your claim and complete the required application form. This process is completely optional. If you already have the information you need to file a formal claim, you should file the formal claim instead of using the intent to file a claim process.

The Intent to File may be submitted in one of four ways:

  1. Through your accredited Veterans Service Organization, which can submit it electronically on your behalf
  2. Electronically via eBenefits by initiating and completing the personal information page, and saving (but not submitting) the application
  3. Completing and mailing the paper VA Form 21-0966, Intent to File a Claim for Compensation and/or Pension, or Survivors Pension and/or DIC to VA
  4. Informing a VA call center representative over the phone or a public contact representative in person at a VA regional office

This change allows VA to award increased benefits retroactive to the date of medical treatment as long as you submit your intent to file within one year of your treatment and the required claim form is filed within the same year as your intent to file.

There’s still more work to do, and we have more ideas, but everyday we’re working hard to improve your experience at VA. These forms will help take out the guess work so many of you, me included, have experienced.

Editor’s note: Still have questions? Visit explore.va.gov for more information on using standard forms to file a claim.


Cat Trombley is a public affairs specialist with the Veterans Benefits Administration. Prior to working for VA, she was an assistant director at a Veteran service organization and represented Veterans before the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. She is also an Air Force Veteran and married to a Marine Corps Veteran.

Author

Catherine Trombley

Comments

  1. Robert c laFoy    

    As a federal employee for 43 yrs. I was required to go over seas withe the military, while station in I vietnam Plaque highlands . My question is why I am not qualifed for agent orange. While serving in Vietnam for a yr. as required by regulations. Thank you

  2. ARNOLD MILLER CABRAL    

    I would suggest whoever reads this help us VETERANS passed a law where if a VETERAN change VETERAN PRIMARY CARE DOCTOR TO GET ANOTHER VETERAN PRIMARY CARE DOCTOR IT SHOULD SHOW UP IN YOUR MEDICAL RECORDS WHY YOU CHANGE YOUR VETERAN PRIMARY CARE DOCTOR……..SEMPER FI

  3. Catherine Trombley    

    Alfonso,
    When you don’t have a condition noted in your service medical records, the best thing to do, is get a service buddy to write you a statement stating the dates they knew and served with you and that you had the condition in the Air Force and comment on their observations of how it affected you. They should sign the document and you should submit that with your claim. You can file for your neck as a secondary condition if you think it is related to your back and knees. VA may send you to a doctor who will provide an opinion on whether it is indeed related. If the doctor thinks it is a 50/50 chance (as likely as not) we resolve benefit of the doubt in your favor and award you compensation. If you think the severity of your GERD has increase, then you should file for an increase. Your claim will go more quickly if you submit your evidence with the claim filing electronically is best. If you can’t file electronically, remember to use the forms!

    1. alfonso    

      Catherine- THANK YOU MUCH!

      You have great and useful information on here!

      alfonso- USAF VETERAN

  4. Alfonso Galan    

    Question, I want to claim shin splints. While I was in the service, I went to the base hospital and also off base for shin splints. As i was looking at my medical records I don’t see any mention of shin splints. Can I still make a claim for that? Also, I have my back and my knees, but over the last couple of years my neck has been starting to hurt when I stand or when i walk. Is that something I can claim? I have been granted GERD, but it is at 0% and i deal with it on the daily, can I get anything for that or will it always be 0%?

    Thanks!
    Alfonso Galan- USAF VETERAN

  5. Michael Stesen    

    I was diagnosed with hepatitis c in 1973 and the army never told me then again in 2004 they did blood work again and never told do I have a case of getting back pay I was told I should have been medically discharged at 100% in 1973 is this true

    1. Catherine Trombley    

      Michael,

      Without looking at your entire file, I can’t give you good advice. However, typically you cannot receive pack pay past the date you file a claim. There are provisions that allow you to challenge DOD’s characterization of your discharge. A VSO can help you determine if you fall within this category, though it’s rare to change from an Honorable to a medical, I have seen it. I suggest you sit down with a good claims representative you can look at your records and help you decide what to do. Who you sit down with should be familiar with DOD discharge reviews and VA compensation claims. Hope that helps.

  6. anthony dawn    

    I was awarded my rating in September 2013, ai was missing a VA form 21-651 compensation in lieu of retired pay. I mailed the form in on 23 September 2013 to St. PETERSBURG. They sent my file to Houston and in November 2013 I contacted VA again and was told they had the file. Well in May of 2014 I was told by the VA that they received the file buy the form did not accompany it. So I faxed a copy in to Houston and uploaded if up on Ebenefits as well. The problem is that it has been sitting in the under review status for almost a year. Why is it so hard to process a single piece of paper? Who can I talk to to get this taken care of?

  7. leroy shye jr    

    I have been trying to get service related compensation since 1998 and i continue to get the same answer. They cannot find my medical records to justify my claims. I have submitted my personnel medical records and letters of buddies who served with me and are receiving there compensations. This very frustrating, can i please get some input or help finding my records. My wife and i have lost 3 kids due to complications i think transferred thru me. I have 3 kids now that i would want to make sure they and my wife are cared for due to my health is disminishing. SGT Shye.

    1. Robert w bailes    

      Call Adam Luck attorny for vietnam vets ,Affganastan vets,etc..He will do everything to help you. His office is in Dallas Texas, but don’t worry, he will answer the phone .You can always reach him.there are no secretary’s , Adam or his partner will help. Call 844-244-8387 Good luck ,God bless

  8. Isaac Saenz    

    I need to find out on how to get help on my appeal.

    1. Catherine Trombley    

      Isac,

      I am working on another blog on appeals, so stay tuned! However, the best way to get help with your appeal is to enlist the help of an accredited representative, like a Veterans Service Organization (VFW, DAV, Purple Heart, to name a few). They offer assistance free of charge.

      Appeals take time, there are a series of laws that tie the process up. But here is my advice — know why you are appealing, and how successful you will be. A good rep, should be able to predict what is going to happen. When I was an appeals rep, Veterans would often appeal issues that I could not help them with, the law tied my hands. For example, do you want a 70% for migraines, but that condition is capped at 50%? Or do you want your effective date back to the day you got out of service, but did not file until 5 years after service? Know if you are appealing because you truly should have received a different decision, or if you feel like you should have received a different decision. Second, turn in all your evidence as soon as possible. Each time you add evidence after receiving a statement of the case, the process becomes much longer. That is because the law demands we essentially start over and issue a new statement of the case or decision, this could mean a full case review. Lastly, even with a rep, you are your own best advocate. Be clear with both your rep and VA in why you are appealing. And if you have financial hardship, VA can work your claim more quickly, just let us know. Hope that helps and good luck.

  9. Charles e cavallier    

    i do hope this form helps out the vets

    1. Cat Trombley    

      Charles,

      I think it will and the cool part about forms (I know, there is a cool part) is the technology we can leverage because of them. Without them tools like optical character recognition is not possible. But with it, we can explore the ability for our claims processors to keyword search hand written documents. Think about that for a minute. How many times do you get a handwritten document and have to stop what you are doing to decipher the writing? When we receive claims in long handwritten correspondence they can be hard to read, and it slows the process. Now if it comes in on a form, we scan it into our system and our claims experts could soon be able to keyword search those hand written documents. When you consider that just four years ago when I started at VBA claims processors were still using an entirely paper process, it’s pretty incredible. Yes, there is more work to do and we are working hard to get Veterans the benefits they have earned and deserved. But these forms are a key factor in our goal to eliminate the backlog of disability claims by the end of this year.

  10. Karl Swenson    

    You know, it may be quicker and easier to FILE, but it is still the same old waiting game for action on the part of the VA. I submitted a request to add dependents to my records in December of 2014. Nothing yet. How many key strokes are required to do that??

    1. Christian B    

      I submitted mine in September/2012 and I’m still waiting. There is a blog post somewhere that explains how to add a dependent quickly, just don’t upload any support documentation. You will start getting the increase from that next month, it works, but you wont get any retroactive pay and will have to wait (almost 3 years and counting!) for them to process the original.

      So if you are adding dependents go find that blog post and don’t add any support documentation and you will get it right away. I wish the VA would send a letter explaining this instead of burying it in an obscure blog.

      1. Cat Trombley    

        Christian,
        Thanks for the plug! I wrote that blog too. Karl, here is the link to the blog vhttp://www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/13707/new-technology-automates-veterans-requests-to-update-family-member-status/

        VBA has been focused on rating claims — those that give you entitlement benefits. By focusing on compensation claims, some veterans are then entitled to vocational rehabilitation and employment, clothing allowances, vehicle adaptations, housing modifications. Don’t get me wrong, its frustrating. I waited too when my son was born. But we do have a contract in place to help us work through them. Filing electronically though is a big help.

  11. michael mize    

    How come I can’t get the army to release my medical training records I need them to file my clame

    1. Cat Trombley    

      Michael,
      Where you regular Army (active duty)? They should send you a copy. However, I found eBenefits helpful. There is a section where you can request records, like medical and personnel records. Within a couple hours eBenefits sends you an email saying your records are available and you can download a PDF. Have you tried that?

    2. Jennipher    

      Hi Michael,
      Date of service will determine where your records are located. Service treatment records are housed at the NPRC, for Veterans that completed service after 2002 service treatment records are kept at the VA Records Management Center.
      Also if you have already filed a claim you do not need to provide your service treatment records to the VA, the VA is required to get your service treatment records, the official military personnel file, and any treatment at a federal facility.
      I hope this info helps, and call this number to find your local Veteran Services Office 1-844-SERV-VET.
      Here is the NPRC website, http://www.archives.gov/st-louis/.
      Good luck!

  12. Barbara G. Cook    

    My husband died April 11, 2005. He was a Vietnam Vet and was exposed to Agent Orange. He tried applying for service connection, but finally gave up because of the red tape. I have read recently that all vets who were in Vietnam are now considered to have been exposed to Agent Orange. We have two children now in their 30’s. Our daughter has Chiari malformation which is found in most patients with spina bifida. Spina Bifida is considered an effect of exposure of a parent to Agent Orange. Our son has cerebral palsy. Is it worth my time to apply for survivor benefits for me or our children?

    1. Rudy D.    

      One thing is certain…you will NOT receive retroactive benefits if you DON’T file. It’s never a guarantee to receive benefits but you have to file to have a chance. I know it’s frustrating but your children (and you) are worth the effort. God bless & good luck!

    2. Cat Trombley    

      Hi Barbara, I agree with Rudy in that you should apply. You can’t get benefits if you don’t apply. There are many factors that play into the outcome of a claim — no two claims are alike. But in your case this is how it would work: the claims processor would first have to determine if your husband’s passing was due to his service. Did he die of a condition that should have been service connected? For example since 2005, we have added more conditions presumed to be related to AO, one of which is ischemic heart disease. If your husband had passed of this condition, and it was a contributing factor or primary factor on his death certificate, they would probably be able to make the connection. Then, assuming the documentation is all there showing you were married at the time of his death, the examiner could award you survivor’s benefits. Spina bifida is connected for children of both men and women who served in Vietnam. There are other birth defects, however, they are limited to women who served in Vietnam. Finally, if both your children depend on you past the age of 18 out of medical necessity and a doctor stated that, you may be entitled to helpless child. It’s been a long time since I did appeals, but I would suggest you file for survivor’s benefits, spina bifida and helpless child. If you live near a regional office, stop into public contact, or consult a Veterans Service Organization like VVA, DAV, VFW, PVA or The American Legion in your local area. Good luck.

    3. Jennipher    

      Hi Barbara,
      I am sorry to hear about your husband. Here is some information about Agent Orange exposed Veterans that might be helpful; If your husband had “boots on ground” in the Republic of Vietnam then he can be considered as having been exposed to Agent Orange.
      Regarding Benefits, there two that you may be eligible for DIC and survivor’s benefits. here are some links about the program http://benefits.va.gov/compensation/types-dependency_and_indemnity.asp. for DIC your husband’s cause of death has be considered service related.
      Here is the information on Survivor’s pension; http://www.benefits.va.gov/pension/spousepen.asp
      Survivor’s Pension is a needs based program, so excessive income and assets will disqualify you for the program.
      For assistance with this call this number to find your local county veterans service office, and you can get a rep to assist you;1-844-serv-vet

      Finally re: your children; here is the link to the information;http://www.benefits.va.gov/COMPENSATION/claims-special-birth_defects.asp
      hope this info helps.

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